Starting A New Job And Noticing Things

Here is a typical interaction I see with new hires at every place I’ve worked.

New Hire: “I’m really excited to start here, but I just have a few questions.”

Employee: “We are so glad to have you!”

New Hire: “Why is there a machine on your desk that punches you in the face every 10 minutes? That seems like it would make it hard to get any work done.”

Employee: “Oh, it is so much better now. It used to have big spiky brass knuckles on it and now it is just this pillowy soft boxing glove. Things are really improving here.”

I’m going to mis-quote Julia Evans from memory because I can’t find the original source.

Starting a new job gives you the super-power of noticing things.

As a new team member, you have the power to notice weird or broken things that longer-term folks are just used to already. Maybe it’s a complex deploy process, performance problems that seem to be ignored, broken features, long-standing bugs, a punishing on-call schedule, strangely political code reviews, or the team member everyone avoids.

This super-power declines in me over time as I acclimate to my environment. Weird things become routine, pain repeatedly felt generates scar tissue, and I stop noticing broken things. That is one benefit to bringing in new team members - it gives you a chance to notice things through their eyes.

The power to notice things is different from the power to fix things. Fixing long-standing annoyances that have become routine is rarely controversial, but cultural problems are much harder to change. You notice things by being new, but you fix things, especially hard cultural things, by being a trusted team member. Still, noticing is the first step to fixing.

If you’re starting a new job, use your superpower. Point out weird things you see. Expect them to get better. If a new team-member joins your team, use their superpower. Explicitly tell them you want to know what they notice. Make it safe to report weird things they see. Fix them. Your whole team will benefit.